The Adopt A Senior Organization
If you sit down to talk with Adopt A Senior founder Annye Cohen, you had better buckle your seatbelt. You are in for fast, joyous ride, as her enthusiasm for this work spills out in stories of residents she has met, the organizations beginnings and her dreams for the future. Add Bill Cowen, Treasurer and Meagan Conway, Communications Director, to the discussion and the passion this group has in the belief “Seniors Should Never Be Forgotten” is striking.
Adopt A Senior (AAS) is the recipient of the 2016 National Group Volunteer of the Year Award from the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL). This high touch, low tech organization embodies this award. The National Group Volunteer Award recognizes men and women who selflessly volunteer for individuals in long term and post-acute care centers and assisted living communities. The award is for a monthly Birthday Party Patrol. But that is not the entire story, they also work tirelessly on a Holiday Gift program.
The roots of this 503 © (3) non-profit goes back 15 years. Cohen was volunteering at the Riverside Premier Rehabilitation and Healing Center in Manhattan, when she realized there were residents who had no family or visitors during the holidays. She began with a floor of 40 seniors, inviting friends and family to ”adopt” a resident. From that humble beginning the annual Holiday Gift Giving program was born. Every year, additional floors were added to the program, until the long-term residents of all 10 floors receive a holiday gift.
In 2014, Annye co-founded with Bill, the Adopt A Senior organization as a nonprofit in the hopes of taking it nationwide. In addition to Annye, Bill and Meagan, the Adopt A Senior Board includes: Sharyn Cohen Vice President; Bob Tretter Vice President; and Jill O’Toole, Secretary/ Director, Margaret Morris, Director and Deb Hallisey, Director
In addition to Riverside, AAS now volunteers with Bartley Healthcare in Jackson NJ, The Grand in Whitestone, Queens, and Sunrise in Jackson.
January 2015 kicked off a monthly “Birthday Party Patrol” at Riverside Premier. Over the last two years, Adopt A Senior has expanded the outreach of this much loved birthday celebration to include all four facilities. They are now providing year round visits, birthday and holiday gifts to over 900 seniors.
I had the privilege of joining them at Bartley in August, 2016. The Birthday Party Patrol is a parade of volunteers with balloons, hats and kazoos walking through the facility greeting residents. An individually wrapped gift and card is hand delivered to each senior celebrating a birthday that month. At each stop, the card is read aloud, help is given in opening the gift and as a final touch, a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday on kazoos.
You have to be part of this parade to understand the impact it has on not only the birthday person, but the entire facility. Tears, smiles, and thank you came from the birthday boy or girl and from whom ever was near to our birthday circle. Person after person would tear up at their birthday gift or our gift of music. More than once, someone asked “Will you be back? Or said, “My birthday is in …”.
Happy Birthday on kazoos is a big hit, and many residents sing along. One resident even tacked on a bawdy little ditty to her rendition of Happy Birthday! Bill asked one birthday boy “What happens when the birthday cake comes out?” His response, “The girl jumps out of the cake?” Sadly, we had to tell him, not this time, but he would get our version of Happy Birthday. I am particularly struck by our time in the dementia wing. Residents were participating in therapy, sleeping, or ignoring our presence. As soon as we started to play Happy Birthday, many clapped and moved their heads, engaged in that moment. The gentle touch, the soft hug, the connection with the residents as human beings is what makes this group so special.
“Annye’s Army” includes people who can’t participate in the Birthday Patrol, but contribute by crocheting lap blankets, making bracelets, and spending countless hours wrapping individual holiday gifts, chosen from a seniors wish list.
Then there are those that have been personally touched by Adopt a Senior. Making the decision to send a loved one to a nursing home is devastating, according to Marisa Marino. After 3 difficult years of caring for their father at home, the family felt they had no choice and her dad, Frank Mesto, became a resident of Bartley’s.
To hear Marisa tell the story, “my head was down and I was in tears after a visit with dad,” when she noticed people in a parade, with hats and little blue bags. A quick trip back inside, a simple question “How can I help?” and Marisa, extended family, and neighbors have been supporting Adopt A Senior ever since. That first Christmas without her dad at home was difficult. But when family and friends bought “wish list” gifts which Marisa and her daughters hand delivered to residents of Bartley, it gave them a purpose beyond just visiting the nursing home. Since then, Marisa has involved her school in fund raising, asking faculty and families to collect, and send in recycling products like Entenmann’s Little Bites and Brita Filters. Once collected, Adopt A Senior redeems them for cash. To quote Marisa: “They don’t know what they have done for us. They watch out for everybody from the goodness of their hearts. And it means so much to families like ours, along with people who have no one.”
If you don’t live in the New York, New Jersey Tri-State area, you can still be involved. For a donation of $50.00, the organization will select a Senior on your behalf and ensure the individual receives a birthday gift, two seasonal gifts and a holiday gift. You can donate items from the Wish List or designate Adopt A Senior on AmazonSmile.org. For more details on how you can help visit their website: Adopt A Senior, click on Donate. Or call them at 347-365-0633
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.